Thursday, June 30, 2005

In case you missed 30 Days last night, they sent a red-state Christian to assimilate himself into America's largest (Arab) Muslim community in Dearborn, Michigan. I think that here in America, we can create a new measure of how red or blue you are by figuring out how long after 9/11 it was before you got it through your thick, irrational head that not every Muslim is a terrorist. I'll admit it: after 9/11, I was scared. I remember how, in elementary school, usually around Black History Month, my (invariably white) teachers would tell the class how fear breeds racism and I never quite understood that. I vividly remember walking through Penn Station after 9/11 — here when Penn Station, and the two 90-story office towers on top of it, were near the top of the terrorist target watch list — and just giving an extra-close stare at the few men in Muslim dress. Like if I'm real observant, one of them's going to be wearing an I'm a terrorist! sign. And here's the thing: I've seen the security cam video of the 9/11 hijackers going through airport "security," and they're dressed in Western clothes... but still, somehow not looking like a terrorist merits you extra suspicion. When there's this sort of brilliant logic running through your admittedly scared-shitless head, it doesn't take much of a stretch to see why those Mississippi rednecks went all.. well... Mississippi redneck whenever they heard rumors of a black man holding hands with a white girl.

Which is interesting because in my enlightened delusion, I was already making the dissociation between Islam and terrorism and replacing it with the more accurate association between Arab political disenfranchisement and terrorism. No one — not me, not the police or National Guard, not the German shepherds — was giving a second thought to the Senegalese Muslims or Malay Muslims or urban Nation of Islam members walking around. The whole concept of "Islam" this buzzword they might toss around in news reports: compassionate conservative Christian Crusader Dubya prefers "Islam" to "Arab" because Islam falls nicely within his religious tradition and he's not really converting the heathens if they all worship the same god, while Arab just sounds foreign. But what's really happening in our heads is that we're on the lookout for people who resemble the monkey bar guys in that terrorist training video we've all seen a million times by now.

I think what happened eventually is that we're stuck here in New York with millions of people, most of whom are very different from the typical "American" (whatever that means), many of whom are weirdos in their own right anyway, and you get over your anti-Islam, anti-Arab, anti-whatever paranoia cause you'd go freaking nuts if you didn't. The guy on 30 Days, David, came from West Virginia, a much more homogonous area of the country, but I'm not sure that's really an excuse. David seemed to think that every Muslim was, if not ready to drive a bomb-laden truck into a building, at least a supporter of fundamentalist terrorism, and that in itself just strikes me as daffy. It's like saying that every Christian goes to church every Sunday.

Even right after 9/11, I never thought that all men dressed as Muslims were terrorists. It was more like, what if this particular guy is the one.... I guess when you're afraid that you could die at any moment, all sorts of weird logic starts to sound good. I know I've never bought a lottery ticket thinking what if this particular ticket is the one.

Nonetheless, I think that Morgan Spurlock did a pretty decent job of showing David's initial hesitation with regard to living among Muslims — and not even necessarily from the terrorist angle, but just in the sense that it's an unfamiliar set of customs, like it's going to be a month-long bar mitzvah — and his gradual assimilation and appreciation of the culture. At the same time, and I understand that it's only a forty-four minute show, I think the presentation was a bit simplified, such as when David goes on a radio show after three weeks living as a Muslim and the first caller he receives suggests that he's getting chummy with a terrorist sleeper cell. David, and Morgan Spurlock, write the caller off as ignorant rantings (although they do so more gracefully than I just did). But the caller has a point — there probably are sleeper cells in the United States, and if sleeper cells do exist, they're probably hiding out in Muslim communities. Now, hold on a second, and let's try to keep a liberal idea and a less liberal idea in our heads at the same time. The sleeper cells aren't part of Muslim community — mainstream Islam eschews terrorism as much as, and probably more than, anybody else. It's just easier to conduct business in Arabic without raising suspicion in Dearborn than it is in, say, Georgia.

That's why I wanted to see more of the segments where Morgan interviewed people on the street, asking them the first word they thought of when someone said "terrorist," and where David goes out into one of Michigan's non-Muslim (and apparently very red) communities and tries to drum up support for Arab anti-discrimination laws. Was everybody so clod-headed? Maybe I'm cheating, but the first word that comes to my mind when you say "terrorist" is "9/11," which I guess technically isn't a word. I'm almost surprised none of those people said "Saddam."

I'm more ambivalent about the anti-discrimination laws. It's not just that it comes off as P.C. (although it's P.C. in favor of a group that could definitely use the political correctness these days), but because, naughty liberal that I am, I'm in favor of profiling. Not racial profiling, or religious profiling, or even "do you look like the terrorist monkey bar guys" profiling — something more complex where law enforcement wouldn't be wasting their time having Grandma, even if she's Arab and Muslim and looks like a monkey bar guy, take her shoes off while bin Laden's fat sheik friend walks through security unimpeded. The people we need to profile have multiple trips to Iran and Syria and Yemen on their passports, or they give large sums of money to specious pan-Arabist organizations, or they're members of the Saudi royal family.

I guess that for me, the show reinforced the complexity of the issues involved. A few Muslims (in name) are out to harm us, and the vast, vast majority are just trying to live their lives unimpeded. I knew that already. The job of separating the wheat from the chaff probably shouldn't be done by anyone trigger-happy. But — here's the point that David seems to have missed — the job does need to be done, just like someone needs to separate the non-terrorist criminals from the non-terrorist non-criminals. On the other hand, if David is going to have a simplistic notion of Islam in contemporary America, it should probably be a simplistic notion that reflects the reality of mainstream Islam and not the media-hyped fringe elements. So good for David, learning that the collective unconscious of homogonous white America isn't always right. He's taken his first step towards a beautiful life as a blue-stater.

Monday, June 27, 2005

This is what happens when Mom no longer has her kiddies to teach: she starts taking the lovesick rants of Tom Cruise seriously. A sane Today show producer might keep Cruise off the morning news programs ever since his stare-down with Matt Lauer, but it seems like instead they're pretending that everyone's favorite Scientologist actually raised some important issues by dissing Brooke Shields and her Ritalin. Now, it's not even eight in the morning, and I just woke up, and I've gotta leave for work in half an hour, and for Christ's sake Mom, I need some hard news.

I can only hope the summer isn't going to be one big insipid Oprah and The View and Regis & Kelly fest. But it will be a nightmare. Mom leaves her junk all over the kitchen, and I still haven't fully trained her to respect my privacy. Hopefully, Mom will spend lots of time with Grandma, balancing her checkbook, going food shopping, taking her to Dress Barn where they can discuss the quality of ugly old-lady clothes together. (They used to take me with them to Dress Barn and then they'd bitch about how impatient I was when we were there.) Whatever it takes to get her out of the house so I can throw some of my sexy parties, which mainly consist of me downloading porn off the internet.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Alex and I spent today in Atlantic City, gambling mecca of the Eastern seaboard, font of Monopoly street names, scuzzy home to Vegas-style shows. I learned something very important today: old people get cranky when someone stands between them and their nickel slots. Like on the bus ride, they were raffling off free buffet passes and the guy who won couldn't figure out if he wanted to take them or not. And all of the senior citizens on the bus started heckling the poor, confused guy: "Hey, what's the matter, you idiot? Hurry up! We're dying here! We need to get in as much video poker as we can before the Grim Reaper takes us away!"

Okay, they didn't exactly say that, but they were pretty cranky.

Truth is that once we got past that little hurdle, I — a cynic who believes the world teems with indifferent automatons at best — was totally surprised at how friendly everybody in Atlantic City is. From the old woman sitting next to you at the slots to the cleaning crew to the well-heeled floormen, even the myriad security guards carding me never turned child-condescending, like the only reason I'm trolling the casino is to shoplift something. I lost a hundred and sixty dollars there, but everyone was really really nice while I was losing it.

So the bus company has this promotional gimmick with the casinos where they give you twenty bucks to dump into a slot machine, and after you do, you get entered in a drawing. Atlantic City is like ninety-five percent slot machine; the damn things are everywhere. It's not just that the Sands (Al Martino playing August 20) has the entire second floor devoted to them, as well as most of the main floor, all lit up and blinking, screaming for your attention like a crack-addicted Times Square. They're right there when you get off the escalator, they're in McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts. I half-expected there to be some slot machines in the men's room. Which is all very surprising because the slot machines are the most boring, tedious, depressing game in all of Atlantic City, and quite possibly in all of New Jersey.

I want to know who's the dork playing the "Lucky Larry Lobstermania" video slot machine. Larry the Lobster says play five credits! He's lucky!

I actually used to have a lot of fun with the slot machines down on Seaside Heights, where you'd dump real money into the machine for a chance to win fakey plastic tokens. If you won seventeen thousand or so, you could trade them in for a blender. I was less sophisticated in those days, and I liked it how you'd pull on the machine's lever and something would happen. But apparently this whole lever-pulling motion was a bit too complicated for some people to master, and they've replaced it with a giant spin reels button that even the most senile person can figure out. So you sit in front of the machine, it sucks up your twenty bucks into "credits," and you sit there pushing this button like it's special ed. The machines don't even pay out in coins anymore; you get this ridiculous paper printout with your winnings. I got one for $1.25.

It doesn't even come close to balancing out, but everything else in the casino was much less ostentatious. The poker room was this non-descript area on the fourth floor: a dark, smoky room with a big-screen TV, a labyrinth away from the rest of the casino, where I'm pretty sure all the mobsters hung out before the Sands became a publicly traded corporation. My poker table was like ESPN Central Casting sent over the most stereotypical folks they could find. We had the obese woman with her weight in good luck charms. We had the old man in a golf shirt, and the scuzzy old man who was apparently too busy playing the ponies last week to take a shower, and they were both plunking down hundred dollar bills. We had the young Chinese guy. And the old, incomprehensible Chinese guy. And me, totally freaking bewildered by how fast the game was going and totally peer pressured into not thinking before I raised and folding when I should've called. I only lost eleven dollars playing Hold 'Em (Omaha, which no one wants to play anymore, is actually my game of choice), although I'm sure it might've gone a bit better had I not told the entire table that I'd never played against live opponents before.

The casino also makes low-limit blackjack as hard to find as possible, tucking it out-of-the-way in the poker room. Here's some casino etiquitte advice from me to you: always tip your dealer, because they have very low self-esteem. Like our dealer, Bo. He showed us the burn card and it was an ace, so then he dealt the entire shoe apologizing. I spent the bus ride down to AC with the blackjack basic strategy chart and I had a good deal of it committed to memory, but as soon as those cards got dealt everything just flew out of my brain. Eight-eight, should I split? Jack-ace, is that a good hand? As it turned out, even though everybody at the blackjack table is just in it for themselves, there's this real team mentality that the game fosters. Other people were happy for me — I don't know why — when I lucked out and got a blackjack (and it happened way more often than the one out of every fifteen hands that it should have), and I was happy for my fellow players — I don't know why — when they got a blackjack, and we were all happy when the dealer busted. I spent $100 on chips for blackjack and left the table with $88.

So I would've left the casino with some money, except I wanted to play craps, which is advertised as one of the best bets in the casino, and the cheapest craps game we could find had a $15 minimum bet. I guess this wasn't a concern to the old people sitting around the table, without hesitation placing these $500 obscure bets and even confusing the hell out of the dealers. The trick to winning big in craps is to place "odds" bets: bets above and beyond your initial bet that pay off with even odds (i.e. over a long enough time, you'll break even). At the cheap table, you could place odds bets that were up to five times your initial bet, which is why it only took me about ten minutes to lost all my money at craps.

The remaining forty-five mintues before the bus left I spent choking on cigarette smoke, some of which is still in my lungs, and rummaging through my pockets for any more nickels I could put into the slot machines. Sadly, no more change.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

How The Group Interview Went

Pretty well, considering. It helped that I was all mellowed out with my prescription meds. I should really be drawn on Ativan more often.

I would like to thank the earlier-mentioned Mens Wearhouse Guy'dLines web site for their utterly incomprehensible how to tie a tie animations, with four different knot variations, which is four more than necessary. I chose the "four-in-hand" knot and spent about half an hour figuring out that monster. I also took a shot at the windsor knot and half-windsor knot, but gave up on those when I realized that successfully tying a windsor would require spontaneously growing an extra arm or two.

And that would make me look stupid in the interview.

Ken was giving me some hints before the interview and also keeping me on my toes. ("Think quick: what's two plus two?" "Four.") Now, I always thought that the only way I'd be getting offered this job would be if I were being interviewed alongside four
silver-medalists from the Special Olympics, but Ken reassured me that there would only be one other candidate in the conference room who was any real competition. I was expecting four other Asian kids, all Rhodes scholars, yapping about BEA Weblogic and Kerberos and NNTP. So who was right?

Well, there were four Asian guys interviewing us: the recruiter, some tech guy, the company VP, and this jolly, tubby guy. But I walked into the International Biometric Group offices and I couldn't help but laugh. There was one guy, Christopher, sitting in the lobby dressed the way I thought I should've been dressed — in an actual male model-style suit. And, for all my neurotic agonizing about my wardrobe, there was this other guy in a button-down shirt, khaki churchgoing pants, and sneak-ers. I can't believe I thought they'd ostracize me for my suede. Seriously, fuck did I know?

Rounding out our Interviewee League of Justice, there's this dude Michael, who's maybe five years older than the rest of us, works at Lehman Brothers, is clearly used to making presentations to dudes in ties, and could easily be picked out as the competition. There's also some non-descript guy who's wearing a suit and not a tie. Guess which of us ain't getting called back.

Here's the story of the interview. The five of us and the four of them sat on opposite sides of the conference table, like they copied the format from a reality show. We introduced ourselves, then Dave, the recruiter, told us that the purpose of the group interview was to see how we'd interact in a group. Did any of us have some ideas how he might accomplish that? Silence. Scratch that. Nervous silence.

Michael, Mr. Lehman Brothers, finally broke it with something cogent and guaranteed to make the rest of us look like stupid undergraduates by comparison.

Recruiter Dave asked something else, Michael comes up with an answer, and Dave, apparently sensing the start of some sort of pattern, wants someone else to take a turn, too. Awkward silence. So the corporate VP speaks up, out of turn, with only the first of his obnoxious rants: "Okay guys, what we're looking for right now is how you can meet with clients, and when you're meeting with clients, silence is bad. We've been watching from the moment you came in here, seeing what you've done. Because you're gonna have to deal with clients, and anybody who doesn't think they're ready, you might as well not waste your time here, you can just leave." Apparently, someone's a bigwig VP with important things to do, and he just doesn't have time for a bunch of kids too shy to answer a barrage of obviously loaded questions.

Somewhere in there, VP-guy also gives us a big lecture about the importance of eye contact, bitching that we're all looking down at the table and "we could at least pretend to be interested." Then his cell phone rings, and Captain Hypocrisy here decides that feigning interest in the meeting is overrated. He didn't even leave the room. He's also whispering and passing notes to Jolly Tubby Man when Michael's up at the front of the room giving his little extemporaneous presentation.

We're all giving a presentation — the tech guy is asking us a question based on our resume. Chris gives his presentation, and I give my presentation — "You're given some data in an XML file. Write a program that creates an HTML page from the XML file." — and I subtly (and quite accidentally) change the subject so they think I answered the question they asked even though I really didn't, and then Mr. Suit-And-No-Tie gets the freaking easiest question in the entire world. "Write a function in C++, Java, and Visual Basic that calculates the Fibonacci sequence." Now, that's the easiest question in the entire world because there's not a comp-sci major on the planet who hasn't taken at least five exams with that question on it. He gets the C++ version more or less correct, he gets the Java version even less correct, and then he tells the panel there that he "hasn't programmed in Visual Basic in a long time and wouldn't feel comfortable answering the question." But he got two-thirds of the question right, so they let him slide. Shamefully.

Now it's time for the final guy to get his question: "What is the difference between JSP [Java Server Pages] and client-side Java?" And No-Suit-No-Tie-Sneakers stands up and says, word for word, "I haven't programmed in JSP in a long time and I wouldn't feel comfortable answering the question." Like, he doesn't even take a stab at it.

I guess that's the wrong answer.

The VP doesn't have time for this nonsense; he has important things to do, things that require him to wear a tie and dress business formal. In short, he fucking flips, in the passive-aggressive way that someone who thinks he's so important he shouldn't even have to tell you that he's important flips. "Then JSP shouldn't be on your resume. So, here, why don't you take your resume and you can cross out the things that you don't want us asking you about, asshole." (Okay, he didn't say "asshole" but he said it with his eyes.) They pass him his resume across the table. The poor kid looks at it, decides that he's probably not going to be climbing out of the hole Mr. VP dug for him, and tells us that he doesn't think this job is right for him and he's sorry for wasting everybody's time. He gets up to leave, taking his resume with him, and the VP goes into conniptions again: "Hey, hey, hey, don't take that, leave the resume, hey, there's notes on that, hey, hey, leave that here, hey, hey," before Sneakers puts down the sheet of paper.

That's pretty much the blogworthy part of the interview. There was this group project where we had to market our own imaginary Mapquest-like web application. I got a bit flustered during my part of the presentation.

Anyway, I'm no longer interested in the job. By the end of the two hours, the interviewers had taken Suit-No-Tie out of the room and fed him to the pirahnas in the lobby. The remaining three of us left together and walked up Broadway, talking about the interview and exchanging e-mail addresses, which I doubt we'll ever use. We also talked about the company and the executives, including one (guess which) who Michael and Christopher euphemistically called "intense" and I called downright "rude." As you can tell, I'm no longer interested in the position, as cool at it seems from a technical point of view. I thought I wouldn't want it because I'd have to deal with clients or wear a tie, but honestly, if the boss is gonna be a dick before he's hired you, imagine how awful he'll be once you're working there.

They gave us a take-home assignment, which I might or might not do. I do have to write to them and withdraw my application... I'm just trying to decide how much I should say. I wish I could be the kind of person who glare at Mr. VP when he picked up his cell phone mid-conference: "Excuse me, you have something more interesting going on there? Anything you'd like to share with the group?" Oh, man.... Confidence.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

"Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society." — Mark Twain

Another thing I'm freaking out over thanks to Thursday's group interview is the dress code: business formal. I guess that means I won't be wearing my ripped Slayer t-shirt that's three sizes too big and studded with safety pins. No sweatpants, no shorts, nothing that says I'm with stupid on it, maybe I shouldn't dye my hair green and purple and wear it in a mohawk. I'm not really sure what "business formal" means, but I'm pretty sure that the mohawk thing would be "business casual."

Problem is that it's not just gonna be a room with some corporate suit and some bright-eyed twenty-something kid showing off the generation gap. There'll be five twenty-somethings, so the suit will be comparing and judging us against each other, like it's some sort of especially sick beauty pageant. I asked Mom, my designated adult, what I should wear and without hesitating, she told me I need to wear a suit and tie. Wonderful, because it's the middle of summer in New York and nothing says weather-appropriate on an eighty-degree day like a superfluous navy blue jacket.

I'm really just pissed off because while some guys can make the power-suit look happen, my Men's Wearhouse purchases make me look like I'm going to the junior prom and not dancing with any girls. The Men's Wearhouse salesdude, also dressed in business formal, helpfully pointed out that one of my shoulders is higher than the other. So now I can also be self-conscious of that for the rest of my life.

There's not much I can do about the suit at this point, but I will be going out this afternoon to throw away twenty bucks on a brand-new tie. I'm taking the extra-gay step of looking through the pictures in those men's catalogs beforehand, and hopefully I'll find some photos of five-foot-six male models in navy blue suits with uneven shoulders and I can dress like they do. Let's take a deep, heterosexual breath and look....

First stop is the Men's Wearhouse website, where we meet this guy: . Let's take a moment to register our contempt for this smug bastard, how he's giving off those pensive airs and enjoying the Men's Wearhouse everyday low prices at the click of a button. What an asshole. God I hate him.

The Men's Wearhouse website has this, uh, nice little feature they're calling "Men's Wearhouse Guy'dLines," apparently because my gender sucks at coming up with good puns. Men's Wearhouse Guy'dLines is a list of every fricking thing I'm doing wrong when it comes to dressing myself, from my mis-cut pants (fashionistas call them "trousers") to my mismatched belt buckle and watchband to my miscolored shoes. We have this lopsided guy — who is clearly getting more chicks than I am, although that's partly cause he's clearly gay — as our guide through the fashion minefield. He has a whole pamphlet's worth of tips to help me land the job, but they're written in some incomprehensible Zoolander-speak that makes them less than useful, such as "Add houndstooth and more textured fabrics in lighter to medium tones to the above options, as well as non-vented jackets with extended shoulders."

There are also a few business formal Commandments, like "There is no such thing as a short-sleeved 'dress' shirt. Always wear a long-sleeved dress shirt to your interview and for all business occasions," and like, "Never wear a penny loafer or a casual loafer with a suit...." Or the world will implode!!!!!

No, wait, that's not gonna happen. The worst that happens to you is that Joan Rivers spots you and makes fun of you on a Lifetime show that only vapid people watch.

Maybe I'm shooting a little too high for my first serious business formal attire. So I'm taking a step down and checking out the Sears catalog, because I'm hoping that the Sears male models are to the Men's Wearhouse male models as the Sears lingerie models are to the Victoria's Secret models. (In case you happen to be a model reading that sentence, that's what we call an analogy. Can you say "analogy?") Sears, as we all know, is where people who are poor like me but have too much pride to shop at Wal-Mart go when we need top-notch knockoff-brand products. Unfortunately, their website is absolutely useless; they don't have a single picture of a guy wearing a tie. Also, the only ties they sell seem to go perfectly with a midlife crisis: .

Stupid Mens Wearhouse. They only have like six suits online, though there's one suit where the decapitated mannequin model has a shirt on that's approximately the color of my Thursday shirt. And they've got three tie options that go with the shirt. Nice to know I've got choices.

Crap. Here's the thing: I have a $150,000 Ivy League degree that I worked my ass off for four years to obtain. If I don't get a job because I'm wearing the wrong color shoes or something, may the interviewer who turned me down burn in fourth circle of Hell, eternally tormented by a horny Carson Kressley. Fortunately, I get to sleep at night knowing that the real reason I'm not finding a job is that I'm underqualified. I feel much better.

Monday, June 20, 2005

What fascinates me about this group interview I've got Thursday is the responses I get from people when I tell them about it. Some folks echo my sentiments, but what amazes me are the friends at the opposite end of the spectrum, who are enthusiastic about this group interview idea like I just won the chance to make a million dollar half-court shot at Madison Square Garden. And there's the whole range in between, but I think I can make a pretty clear divide here: there's the people who, out of consideration, remind me to be optimistic and there's the people who, out of consideration, don't. Right now, I need to express my heartfelt appreciation for the latter.

Normally, this is the point where I call someone obtuse and berate them for a paragraph, but I won't do that now because I know that everybody who's cheerleading for me with the "be optimistic" and "be confident" inspirational poster platitudes does so out of love. But at the same it is extraordinarily frustrating to hear my friends tell me to do things that are completely outside of my constitution, and say it like they're telling me to blink my eyes or take a breath. People: if I could, I would! Jesus frickin' Christ!

What the fuck ever happened to "be yourself"? Isn't that on a goddamn inspirational poster somewhere too, maybe with a picture of a sunset and a bald eagle and a fat, lazy, pimply slob covered in that orange Cheetos residue and watching Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns. Not like you didn't say to be yourself.

But really people. "Be confident!"


Blink. He shifts his eyes around; maybe there's a bureaucrat in the room. Okay, I will be confident:

What the fuck? Do you really think it's that goddamn easy, that there's this well of confidence I have in reserve, just waiting for a chance to shine? Is there a switch I can flip somewhere to turn the confidence on? Or could you perhaps get it through your thick, self-centered head that not everybody is exactly like you, that maybe some of us have a set of life experiences we draw on that make us anticipate how this or that might not go so hot.... What? Too much confidence?

Catharsis. I'm so brave sitting behind my computer keyboard.
But like I said, I won't do that, because I wasn't being sarcastic when I said that my more ebullient friends were making their sadly moot suggestions out of love. I try to push them, also out of love: "How exactly can I be more confident?" hoping they won't suggest I imagine my job competitors in their underwear. (Unless, of course, one of them is an attractive woman — in which case I will be much less confident, but imagining her in her underwear nevertheless.) Is there like a pill I can take.... yes, yes there is a pill I can take. One of my friends suggested that maybe I head to a bar right before the interview — just a glass of wine, she said. I should talk, Ken said, but not too much.... and I figure I should try to keep behind my tongue anything asinine I might want to say. And I'm totally willing to accept the possibility that I hit it off with the group, or the interviewer, or some subset of the group, and I'm totally willing to accept the possibility that might give me some confidence. I'm just not betting on it.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Happy Fathers' Day, Louse!

A brief snippet of conversation from a family that's not dysfunctional at all. I overheard them while looking for a Fathers' Day card at Irma's Bag, our town's Hallmark store:

Mother: Just pick up any stupid card! It doesn't matter!
Adult Daughter: Okay, okay, and I need to get him a gift, too.
Mother: I swear if you get him a gift I'll never talk to you again.
So Happy Fathers' Day, whoever you are they're talking about. Hope you weren't expecting anything special.
And I got Dad a card that says on the front something like, "You've taught me so many lessons about life, Dad." And then on the inside it says, "But I wasn't listening." Oh, that's heartwarming!

I applied for this software developer job at a place called the International Biometric Group. Biometrics, in case you're unfamiliar with the term, includes electronic fingerprint recognition, voice matching, facial recognition, things like that. So it sounds pretty fascinating from an algorithm design point of view, even if it's kind of creepy from an Orwellian point of view. I called the human resources guy to set up an interview, and that's when my heart sank: at IBG, they do group interviews.

At which point, I should've probably just hung up the phone, but for some reason the job hunt process has a way of dragging out its futility on and on, like a date with a beautiful woman — "I don't want to sleep with you, but we can just talk. You're such a good listener." I had this one interview where the prospective employer, who couldn't have been more than five years older than me, was grilling me on the finer points of computer languages. Naturally, I'm stressed and nervous and semi-articulate, and I'm bullshitting answers that, without the glaring eyes judging me, I'd know hands-down. But then the guy asks me, "In C++, what is a virtual function?" Which is kind of like asking, "In English, what is a nominative pronoun?" You can give the rote, textbook answer, or if the rote, textbook answer isn't finding its way out of your little head, you're screwed.

Clearly I'm screwed. I come up with something that, as it turns out, is actually more or less correct, although I don't know that at the time. Then, Mr. Computer Science Genuis there interviewing me wants me to apply whatever the hell it was I just blurted out to this totally artificial example he came up with ("Let's say you have an A, and A has a function foo, and you have a B that subclasses A, and you publish B to the user..."). At this point, I believe that I would have had a better of getting the job by hurling myself out the conference room window, but for fifteen minutes there, I'm sitting stumped by his A's and B's and foo's. I would've like the courage to just walk out of there and spend the rest of the afternoon at a movie or something, but no, I just stayed in that interview looking sweaty and lobotomized.

So when Dave, IBG Human Resources Guy, told me they "interview in groups of five to ten people," I said, weakly, "Great." When what I meant was, "Thanks for calling."

But wait, it gets even better. The interviews go for about two hours, which is just absurd. I mean, people've gotten kicked off Survivor Island in less than two hours. One thing they're gonna do is ask each of us a "technical question" based on our resumes, and we'll have to give a five-minute presentation to the group. Wonderful. I'm stumbling over words just trying to explain to Dave on the phone what I do for Ken. And then there's a group project we'll have to collaborate on, and Dave, who's pretty soft-spoken, said this in the same tone usually reserved for statements like, "And then, we'll all go out for ice cream!"

I guess I can understand the logic here: you don't want to hire a guy and then find out that he can't get up in front of a room and make a stale, bureaucratic, corporate presentation for shit. And although one generally wouldn't hire software engineers to make three-piece suit presentations — you hire 'em to engineer software — Dave was forthcoming about IBG being a place where everybody would have to (he said "get to") deal with clients and vendors.

Nevertheless, I'm disappointed, and on a fundamental level. Some people just don't shine in groups. Some people might be great workers, but it just takes them a little longer to pick up the rhythm and warm up to everybody else. And there's nothing wrong with that, guy from Human Resources. We can't all monopolize the group dynamic like some arrogant loudmouths who you'll probably get to read all about on Thursday evening's post do.

Friday, June 17, 2005

I went to dinner at this place Mezzogiorno with Mom and Grandma. I'm pretty sure that Mezzogiorno is a hangout for the Scotch Plains mafia, mostly because it's the only nice Italian restaurant in town and obviously the Chinese mob already runs Hung's Shanghai down the street. I'm in there, sniffing around — literally — and there's this sweet, pungent aroma in the place. Could be food, but actually I think I recognize it from my junior year of college.

"Mom, does it smell like marijuana in here to you?"

And Mom, who dormed at college and has also visited the Netherlands, replied, "I don't know what marijuana smells like."

How do you not know what marijuana smells like? Burning cannibis has the smell of giddy, laconic hallucinations, and even if you've never smoked so much as a cigarette before it's instantly recognizable, "Oh, someone around here's doing reefer." Not only does this reflect Mom's white-bread puritanical fearmongering approach to child-rearing, but it calls into question every micromanaging decision Mom makes on my behalf (and usually without my consent) under the flimsy justification of, "I have more life experience than you, Helpless Naif-Child." It's one thing to say you've never smoked pot; it's another thing to be so isolated, so far from any range of human diversity, to say that you've never been in the vicinity of someone smoking pot. Did she go to an Amish college?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Jay Looks For A Community of Ethnically Ambiguous White People

I'm searching for a quick-and-easy way to meet people in this crazy-ass world of ours, because, well, I'm pretty desperate. Usually I write stuff like that on Friday or Saturday night — date night — because I'm at home alone and it's a relatively good date night for me if there's an all-new episode of Monk on. But I'm desperate all the time, and it doesn't help that I've got these acquaintances on the Facebook with 122 friends from college or 157 friends or — and I'm sure this guy's just fucking with me — 275 friends. I can actually count the friends I made in college on my fingers. There's eight of them. I have two fingers left over, and damn they're choice fingers to point at Mr. 275 there.

So I want to meet people, and it turns out there aren't any in my house. It took me like twenty-three years to figure that out. I went out and tried the geriatric Scrabble club and found the social scene there was a little unhip to say the least. I'm not sure what else is around. I've considered taking a class at the New School but I imagine the retirees gravitate that way too, and I thought about The Learning Annex but that seems like it's for NYC's white-trash get-rich-quick schemers ("How To Get A Raise With The Secrets of Hypnosis"), and I thought of taking some fitness class at the gym but that seems like it's full of desperate housewives, who are nowhere near as hot as the ones on TV.

When I was in college, where there was an ample supply of money to hand out to whatever Ivy League weirdos wanted to be lord protectorate of their own Ayn Rand club or an S&M club, it seemed like most of the non-aberrant students fell into one of three types of clubs. There were the club sports, the religious groups, and the ethnic clubs, although some clubs, like the table tennis club, seemed to overlap categories.

This arrangement left me feeling neglected. See, if you're going to join, for instance, the Dungeons & Dragons club or the volunteer suicide hotline, you say something about yourself — I'm a nerd who lives in a fantasy world or my voice is so mellifluous it can soothe jumpers off a ledge. I was never very comfortable revealing myself to my college peers — although I seem to have no problem sharing my intimate thoughts with God-knows-who's reading my blog — and that seemed to cut out a large segment of the social world. There were still the clubs where I could proclaim to the world "I'm bored, let's play ultimate frisbee" or "I'm Jewish."

But I'm not athletic.

And I'm agnostic, and there's no club for that, where we'd get no closer to deciding once and for all whether God exists.

And I don't have an ethnicity. Almost all of the undergraduates at Columbia are American-born, but there's a club celebrating pretty much anywhere in the world one's ancestors might be from: Korea, the Caribbean, the Ukraine, wherever. But despite all of Columbia's diversity, there was no club where I, as a non-redneck non-waspy white American of uncertain ancestry, could feel at home. I can already the Confederate flag hanging in our meeting hall, and that's not what I'm talking about. I'm always amused by the drawling Southern types still resentful of losing their plantations talking about how the statue of General Lee in the town square isn't an homage to slavery but rather an homage to antebellum culture, which only thrived thanks to slavery. If there's anything more insipid than Scarlett O'Hara sipping a mint julep while Mamie scrubs the floor, it's our contemporary white American culture: Ashlee Simpson and NASCAR and The DaVinci Code. God help us if we celebrate it.

What I'm talking about is a place where folks as pale as I am can go and proclaim nothing less superficial than "Look at the color of my skin." We can find one of the Children of the Corn and make him our club president. Anybody's welcome to join as long as they want to sit through some exciting conversation about topics that matter to white people, like sunscreen or how we can destroy that Kevin Federline asshole.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Somebody Loves Me

I was over at Anne's house, introducing her to Wonderfalls. We're still friends, but the spark in our relationship died a few years back. I miss the P.D.A. sometimes, but I always miss the love, there being someone who just plain wanted me around. Which was great when I discovered tonight that there was still a love spell over Anne's house — not from Anne, of course, but from her bichon friset, Max.

When we first met, Max did not like me dating Anne. He used to bark at me, scratch me, growl at me, try to bite me, sort of like her father. For my part, Max became my surrogate canine, the hypoallergenic dog Mom would never let me have. Regardless of Max's playful belligerence, I couldn't get enough of hugging him and petting him, sneaking him food. And he'd tolerate it, till one day I found his g-spot. I wrapped my hands around him and started massaging his belly, and that was the key. Now, I come over to Anne's house and after jumping on me, Max automatically rolls over for me, wagging his tail. I rub his belly, and if I stop he'll stretch himself out like a Renaissance Aphrodite, staring up at me, his little legs dog-paddling in the air pitifully.

He's a needy little dog, isn't he?

But wouldn't it be great if people were that easy, just rub their tummy and behind their ears and that's all it takes to make them your BFF? None of this getting to know you bullshit, no need for dinner and drinks. Just roll over and lift up your shirt. Good girl.

I wasn't even aware that Union County has a cultural arts commission. I think what fooled me was the lack of culture or arts in Union County. But as it turns out, not only do we have official government-sanctioned arts support but the commission runs a workshop series for artists. That's why I was up at eight in the morning on a Saturday heading to Kean College: Not only would the "ArtsInspire!" conference be a good opportunity for networking, so claimed my mom, but they were having a workshop on getting your writing published. Even as a writer, I'm plenty content with avoiding publishing seminars because before one publishes a work, he must complete it, and I have a non-existent track record completing pieces I've started.

But my mother kept harping on me about how great this workshop would be, and I figured it would be easier to go than to listen put up with her incessant nagging till the day of the workshop and her incessant reminding me how disappointed she is that I didn't go in the days following the workshop.

There were between forty and fifty "artists" like me at this workshop, although most of them had that fourth-grade teacher look to them, with the short cropped hair, the casual dress, the demeanor that said, "I don't need to care about my wrinkles and crows' feet." There was the obligatory bald guy with a ponytail. Not that I was expecting anyone I might relate to there, but I could tell the conference's prospects as a networking opportunity were shot from the moment I walked in. The whole concept behind networking is: here I am, a playwright without a producer, so I need to go someplace where there'll be producers without playwrights. Or failing that, someplace where there'll be people carrying around e-mail addresses for producers without playwrights. But stuck in a hot room with another Union County old-folks' club, nobody there was fewer degrees of separation from publicity than I am.

There's the keynote speaker, this woman who's an actress, coffee spokeswoman, and co-founder of ArtsGenesis, whatever that is. Her speech vacillated between mildly interesting — she played Lady Macbeth at Dannamora maximum security prison — and pretentious art-speak — a member of the Blackfoot Indians interrupted a speech she was giving in New Mexico with a rant about how his people couldn't understand her concept of "art" because to them, art is endemic to every aspect of their life: their cuisine, their clothing, their religion... and you can imagine where this is going with our ArtsGenesis co-founder in front of a bunch of artisté wannabes. What could I do, I'd already paid my twelve dollar conference fee. I already had my nametag stuck on my shirt.

Fortunately, the workshop on getting published was one of the first after the keynote. We went into a "meeting room," which differs from a conference room in that it has all the chairs but no long table down the middle. Myra, who was leading the workshop, and the fourth-grade teachers didn't like the seating arrangement, and one fourth-grade teacher suggested that we arrange the chairs in a semi-circle. Myra agreed, because we were going to "introduce each other." At which point, I pretended I had to go to the bathroom and didn't come back.

Because it wasn't introduce yourselves, tell us your name and why you're here, which would have been understandable if unnecessary and pointless. It was introduce each other, which has the ring of some kind of lame icebreaking exercise that's supposed to make everyone feel comfortable with each other but instead the whole room just takes on an awkward air. I vaguely recall having to do that once before, maybe in college, maybe at that church retreat Mom forced me to go on, maybe just in my imagination because I don't have a vast enough collection of humiliating experiences in my life. You sit in a circle or something and you have to say your name, and where you're from, and some totally superfluous fact about yourself like your favorite ice cream flavor or three things you'd take with you if you were stranded on a deserted island or something. Then you have to repeat the previous person's name, hometown, and superfluous fact for the edification of all. Or, if you have a particularly sadistic team leader, you have to repeat all the previous peoples' info.

There's a million variations on the icebreaker, all designed around the strategy that if people look like dolts when they first meet, it won't be such a fall when they actually do something genuinely doltish. There's the one where the group leader has a bag of M&M's and everyone takes a handful, and then they have to say one thing about themselves for each M&M they've got. "Here, have some candy. Mwah hah hah hah." There's the "Fear Factor" variation: everybody gets an idiotic task to do — cluck like a chicken or recite the alphabet backwards or sing a nursery rhyme. That was the one we had to do at the church retreat, which is why I can only think of the most sanitized examples.

Frankly, I'd like to meet the bastard camp counselor who came up with these ideas and beat the living shit out of him. I can get together a whole group of people and we could bond that way.

Friday, June 10, 2005

I Travel To Australia In My Mind

Dad got a brochure in the mail today from a company called Tauck World Discovery, one of those places that runs exotic travel excursions for suburban adventurers. My Dad, Dr. Livingstone — he and the wife used to travel around Europe and the Caribbean, but then I was born and now the most alluring place this family's travelled is Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay. Narragansett is the poor man's Cape Cod, which is of course the poor man's Jersey shore, which is the poor man's Sandals beach resort. You mean the water's cold and green and I can win a stuffed Tweety bird if I flip the plastic frog onto a lily pad? Just like nature intended.

Narragansett's like that except, like Fanwood, there's no prizes. Better seafood though.

The past few years have seen even further atrophy of our family vacation. We went from reasonably-priced motels on dull beaches to day trips into New York, which I usually passed on because I was living in New York at the time and that made their trips less like vacations and more like errands.

Now this thing from Tauck comes in the mail with an offer of a three-week Australian and New Zealand-an cruise, and that sounds a whole lot better than spending three weeks here in Fanwood. I'm enchanted by these photos of koala bears and Ayers Rock, but it ain't happening. It doesn't matter that the Tauck package costs a couple thousand dollars more than my student loan — I could just tell you from experience: this isn't the first time I've gotten it in my head to fly far, far away from here and, save for a four-day stint in Washington, D.C., I haven't even been out of the New York metropolitan area in five years. For my twenty-first birthday, the parents even offered me an expenses-paid trip somewhere, but I've been following in their footsteps instead.

So it didn't really come as a surprise to me in therapy the other day when Dr. Schlessinger noted, "You know what I don't really hear from you, Jay? I don't hear any sort of momentum coming from your social experiences. I don't hear any of your friends suggesting, 'Hey, I saw this cool thing in Time Out New York next Saturday,' or, 'Look at this. Tickets to Prague are only three-hundred dollars. We should go.' Going on a trip would give you that continuous momentum. I think it would be really good if you went on a trip with a friend."

Me too.

Unfortunately, I can't get my friends to go to the fucking movies with me. The sheer volume of voice-mail messages, scheduling conflicts, lame excuses, and last-minute cancellations I've gotta deal with just to get dinner with a friend frequently makes me want to shove an awl through my skull. I'm the guy who couldn't give away a limo ride to the senior prom. I'll become the princess of Spain before I'm able to bring a friend on vacation with me.

And there's the possibility of finding some Tauck-like company that caters to kids my age, and I've thought about that, too. It's too bad that I spent four years living with kids my age, and for the most part they're nothing but loud, drunken, boorish louts. I'd be like that moody guy on every season of The Real World who's always in the confessional talking about how he doesn't fit in.

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Columbia Is Hiring...

I got this email from the Columbia Alumni Association — my favorite alumni association — that's pretty much a jumble of Columbiana I couldn't care less about and pleas for my hard-earned money. There's, in big red letters: May Columbia's spirit roar in your heart forever!

I usually take Pepto-Bismol for that sort of thing.

But what really caught my eye was this little bit of Columbia news, which I'll indent for you.

Columbia's Office of Undergraduate Admissions is looking to fill three positions this summer (Admission Officer, Assistant Director of Admissions, Associate Director of Admissions). Position responsibilities involve extensive recruitment travel (30-40 days a year), reviewing a large volume of applications (1,000+) and specific programmatic responsibilities that may include coordinating publications and marketing efforts, managing athletic recruitment and selection, managing creative and performing arts recruitment and selection, directing on-campus programs, advising undergraduate student volunteers and/or directing the admission process for transfer students. The Assistant Director and Associate Director positions require previous admission experience. Anticipated start date is August 1, 2005. All positions are based on the Morningside Heights campus.
And I thought, here's my opportunity. My opportunity to deny Ivy League admission to every hyperactive Election-style over-achiever with a novella-length resume, to every steroid-pumped brain-dead athlete who shouts "Boo-yah" every time a touchdown is scored somewhere in the word, to the kid who's always wearing a cowboy hat even though he's from Boston or somewhere. I'll bet there's no better feeling in the world than sending that thin waitlist envelope to a valedictorian and making him cry. But the point of being a student cum admissions officer is molding the school into the intellectual haven it wasn't back when I went there.

It didn't take all that much consideration before I realized that this was not the job for me, and not only because, far from wanting to improve Columbia, I hope the place deteriorates until everybody there is as miserable as I was. What really turned me off was the opportunity to read over a thousand applications, at least half of which would inevitably be about some first generation American's struggle to realize their immigrant parents' dream, and I don't think I'd be able to stand that sappy crap. I guess that technically I wouldn't have to read all the essays: Columbia mandates a freshman-year writing course that's designed to bludgeon all the uncollegiate communication habits out of your system anyway. And despite the appeal of holding these high school students' fates at my obviously short supply of mercy, I just don't want to be involved in a job where I have to accept anyone for college.

I could be the person who writes the respectfully condescending rejection letters, the ones that begin with, "We regret to inform you..." and then it doesn't really matter what bullshit they say cause no one reads any further. I do that job for free. And I'd sneak in something about perhaps you should join the circus... or try a state school. [insert maniacal evil laughter here]

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

What's up with The Inside? It's like someone was at a FOX production meeting going, "Hey, remember that show Profiler from a few years back and how totally forgettable it was? Yeah, let's bring that back."

Word Freak

I fulfilled the first of what promises to be many awkward steps on my plan to make friends by joining groups of people who share my interests. Me and my white Russian were bored Saturday night, stuck in the house alone, nursing an addiction to Yahoo! Games online Scrabble substitute when I wondered, "Maybe there's a place I could go to play face-to-face rather than face-to-computer." I used to play these board games all the time before the internet came along, except that since I don't have any siblings and my parents are extremely dull, I would play Scrabble or chess or Monopoly or whatever by myself. This never worked so well with Hungry Hungry Hippos.

As it turns out, there's a local Scrabble club in Edison and while it seems that even Scrabble geeks have better things to do on Saturday evenings, they do meet on Tuesdays from seven till ten. Now here's the interesting thing about Saturday expectations versus Tuesday expectations: Saturday evening, I fantasized about these unshaven philosophy grad students placing Scrabble tiles to the aromas of burning hash and incense... but by Tuesday I was pretty much predicting to find a mostly empty community center room with people who had enough free time in their lives to man the voting booths at today's gubernatorial primary elections. I was correct — the Scrabble society was about ten people and they were largely the geriatric crowd. So if you're looking to hook up with some folks on Social Security, now you know where to find them.

I figured that at least I'd get to play some Scrabble, and whether it's with old people or not it won't be any worse than playing online.

It wasn't, but there's something about these old-timer Scrabble nerds that just isn't right. Like a few years ago, Anne and I found Yoga Journal magazine in Barnes & Noble and we just started reading it as a goof, and it was the funniest thing ever because its demographic is holistic, new age gurus who are way, way too into yoga. People who bathe in clarified butter to clear their chakras, people who actually have the time in their lives to go to Hawaii for a yoga competition, people who bothered to write letters to the editor complaining that competition is anathema to the spirit of yoga. Those kinds of freaks. The kinds who don't have real jobs.

The Scrabble club gave off that vibe too. The vibe of people who tell stories about that time they got traded in their rack with the Q and got two U's in exchange. I met Walt, who I guess started the club. He's the very proud owner of an electronic pocket anagrammer, which tells you all you need to know about him. I hadn't been there fifteen minutes before Walt started signing me up for Scrabble tournaments around New Jersey.

I lost all three games I played, but I think that's cause the Scrabble society veterans all cheated, making up words like "alift" and "zoa". Seriously, what the hell is a "hae" anyway? Has anybody anywhere ever used that word in a sentence?

Sunday, June 5, 2005

I Am Pantsless No More

While I wasn't looking, all my pants shrunk. I can't really imagine how something like that would happen, because I can see how a single pair might shrivel in the dryer but all my jeans? It's a mystery.... At least I was left with a single pair of pants, a pair which, oddly, was a little too big for me when I bought them but now seems to fit just right. Spooky.

So I needed more pants and I had a gift certificate to JCPenney, left over from Christmas when my old-timer cousins decided to buy me what was in all likelihood a hideous sweater or a plaid button-down shirt even though every year I pray to Santa that they'll just give me some money, like normal people I only see on special occasions once a year. This attitude of mine started when I was maybe five or six, and despite my youth I was still smart enough to see that this was the only time people would be handing me free shit and there was no sense wasting those freebies on clothes, which Mom would pay for anyway. If all my aunts and uncles and cousins n-times removed combined their Lord & Taylor's and Penney's and Macy's kids section gifts just once, they could've gotten me what I really wanted — a Nintendo, otherwise forbidden in my parents' house — and I would've been the most popular kid on Kempshall Terrace during those all-important formative years. But instead, Christmas after miserable Christmas, these relatives handed me one turtleneck sweater after another.

And then Queer Eye for the Straight Guy started, and it dawned on me that at least half my wardrobe came to me via Christmas and birthday gifts, straight off the department store clearance rack. On one episode, Carson complained that he was in a "sea of plaid," and I thought, "Shit, that's my closet. Damn my relatives and their bad taste! They're clearly to blame for me not getting any girls." And that was it: no matter what the cousins give me, it's going back to the store. I might not like the store, but at least I get to choose my wardrobe, because I'm such a big boy.

That's how I wound up with a fifteen dollar gift certificate to JCPenney, which if you list all the department stores that people who watch Judge Judy shop at, it's the gayest.

If you're a department store, and you happen to be, say, Barneys New York or Nieman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue, it's alright to be effeminate and even emasculated since your male clientele is obscenely rich. Look at Sex in the City: effeminate man + money + a full set of teeth = Prince Charming. But let's say you're not all in silk ties and Italian leather shoes, your floors are dirty and your wardrobe is full of shirts with the names of baseball players stitched on the back. You're not getting any action, at least not any female action. So that probably explains why I'm at JCPenney.

Now I have to buy pants, and as if someone at Levi's thought life's not complicated enough, we've got Classic Fit, Regular Fit, Relaxed Fit, Relaxed Boot Fit, Loose Fit, Loose Boot Fit, Easy Fit, Comfort Fit, Husky Fit, Baggy Fit, and, what the hell, Chewy Fit. I've also gotta hunt through piles of denim looking for my size, 30 x 30, and for some reason JCPenney seems to only have inhuman pants sizes designed for fantasy creatures, like 42 x 28. What sort of freaking troll has a 42 inch waist and 28 inch legs? Frankly, I think there ought to be a cap on the size of pants they make, and you're over the limit then you've gotta walk around in your underwear until you're humiliated enough to take a few inches off your girth.

I must've messed up the entire men's section at Penney's looking for my size, but eventually I found some jeans in the Regular, Relaxed, Relaxed Boot, and Comfort Fit varieties. Time to find the dreaded fitting rooms, which I usually avoid and not only because the fittin room floor is always invariably made out of discarded size tags and straight pins. I don't know where the hell all these straight pins are coming from, because it's not like there's anything with straight pins in it on the store floor. Maybe there's some guys bringing a sewing kit into the fitting room, which just makes me uncomfortable. But anyway, the real reason I hate the dressing room is because the store invariably hides the fitting room away in the most emasculating place possible. At a sympathetic store you might find the fitting room near the socks and boxer shorts, which is great cause in thirty seconds you'll be standing in your underwear in front of a full-length mirror but first I have to see all these packages with pictures of semi-naked built guys, so I have something to compare myself too.

Worse is Old Navy — at every Old Navy I've been to the fitting room, a unisex fitting room naturally, is right smack in the middle of the bikini section or all the bras and panties (not sure who the hell is buying underwear at Old Navy) so you feel like a pervert going in there. The girl with the radio headset watching over the fitting room, making sure you walk out with the same number of clothes that you walked in with: she doesn't help.

Boy, I wish I were a woman. Then shopping for clothes would be easy.

My Dreams For Michael Jackson

There was an editorial on this morning's CBS Sunday Morning news about our society's unnecessary fascination with the Wacko Jacko trial and how the luckiest people in America are the few who haven't heard a word about this celebrity circus. Now, these folks providing television commentary on the news events of the day, sitting alone in front of that black backdrop, obviously reading off a teleprompter something someone else wrote, are the pinnacle of dullsville. Either they're conservative and working to turn otherwise-decent Americans to the dark side, they're liberal weenies giving us a bad name, or — and this is the least of three evils — they're politically neutral and as disengaged as that disembodied voice who reads the legal fine print at the end of car ads. This guy fell into that third category.

His thesis was just rehashing the obvious: we would all have been better off if the Jackson trial never happened. I'll grant that. I mean, we would all have been better if Michael followed in Randy's footsteps and his biggest eccentricity was using the word "dog" at the wrong time. Or if he'd gracefully faded into obscurity like Jermaine or Latoya. Or if he got a normal job as, perhaps, a claims adjuster or in retail, where he wouldn't have the time to turn himself into a baby-dangling, chimp-kissing, no-longer-biodegradable tabloid headline. Basically, nothing good happens when Michael meets the more flamboyant elements of society.

The editorial continued that no matter who won the trial, everybody would lose. This is where I started thinking that this newsguy, even though his heart's in the right place, was a complete shit-for-brains. If Jackson won the trial, his reputation would be tarnished, this ass-clown said. Uh... what does that even mean when it comes to Michael Jackson? He's a pedophile, and his defense is that he didn't molest all the children he slept with. It's a good day for Michael when the late-night comedians joke about how he named his kid Blanket or about how his face is falling to pieces. And still, none of this seems to bother Jacko's posse of sycophants, ex-cons, and B-list celebrities who think they're A-list celebrities. I don't think Elizabeth Taylor spends her time fawning over too many other pederasts.

Which, in a nutshell, is the fucking problem with these freaks. The prosecutor, Thomas Sneddon, might have a weak case against Jackson, but the truth is that the case really isn't about Jacko or "his accuser" or the accuser's grifter parents. The case is about drawing a line in the sand on those exclusive-access Santa Monica beaches. I managed to catch the most insufferable of all human beings, Robin Leach, drawling out his schpiel about how the Hollywood types are so much more important than the rest of us: "...and there's nothing your concierge can't get for you if you're a celebrity. Dinner at the most exclusive restaurants, a chartered jet for the evening, your own private island for the weekend." If Sneddon wins, then we'll have at least one limit, one thing your concierge can't get you no matter how much you pay and no matter how important you think you are — no procuring nine-year-old boys from poor families because you're too impotent to have sex with a consenting adult.

That's why, even though my only interest in Jacko is in seeing him the victim of a Siegfried and Roy-style tiger mauling, I have a great indignant interest in the case. I don't think it's unfair to lump Jackson in with Ken Lay or Dennis Kozlowski, not to mention O.J. and Robert Blake and Martha Stewart and Nick Nolte and Puff Daddy (I call him "Sean") and the entire Brat Pack and Christian Slater as of this week and need I go on. I'll throw Jacko in the same category as Dubya and Osama: that is, people who think that because they're rich and (at least in their own minds) important that they don't have to follow the rules like the rest of us. "No is not in the vernacular of the ultra-famous," Robin Leach reminds us.

Here's a novel idea you're not likely hear from the mouth of Pat O'Brian: maybe it should be. This isn't about one pervert molesting kids, it's about democracy and egalitarianism and equal treatment under the law. Those folks out there supporting Michael are, I bet you, the same people bitching to their city councilman when a Megan's Law felon comes to live in their neighborhood.

I'm gonna do my part by not standing outside the Santa Monica courtroom with a
we love you Michael sign or buying any of Martha Stewart's crappy linens from KMart or watching The Apprentice or paying ten dollars to see Herbie: Fully Loaded. But I can't do this alone, people. For some reason, there's a whole subculture out there in middle America trying to get Hollywood to clean up its sex and violence, but I'm alone here eradicating just general douchebaggery. We can start by gagging Robin Leach.

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Business Model

I was stuck in Newark for over an hour this afternoon, waiting for the train to come home, and... well, I don't know about you but I tend to get a bit uppity sitting in that shithole train station with nothing to do. Finally the train pulls in and I pick a seat and — by the way, I never, ever do this unless I'm trying to look cool — I selfishly stretched my legs across the row of seats, like they were my own personal sofa. Never mind the big, unmissable flashing signs on the train Please keep your / Feet off the seats.

Screw it, I thought. I look cool like this, even if the seats aren't wide enough for me to fully extend my legs so I'm sort of in a fetal position with the hard plastic armrest digging into my spine. But what'll I do if the Man, the big bad "any ticket purchases on this train will be assessed a five dollar surcharge" conductor comes by and tries to kill my buzz, makin me put my feets down like he be teachin me Sunday school. (Did that make any sense?)

Here's what I'd do: I wouldn't even look up at him and I'd just mutter under my breath, "Bite me."

No, what I'd actually do is put my feet down sheepishly, and then feel like a wuss. But at least I'd put them back on the seat once the conductor left.

So what I was thinking is that I need a way to say bite me to the world without actually having to say bite me. And out of that was born my brilliant marketing idea: t-shirts with messages that tell everybody looking at you where they can shove it. We already have bite me, but how about here's a finger for you and i'm looking at you but i'm seeing crap and short and to the point fuck everyone. The target market would be jaded post-graduates who haven't outgrown their teen angst yet.

I figure this way, instead of physically telling the conductor to bite me and opening myself up for a witty retort, I could just point to the shirt. If the line really took off, we might even extend it to, say, hats with the inspirational message read the shirt. Then I could point to the hat when getting hassled by authority figures.

I'm seeing a whole new trend of Goth kids coming to school with black nail polish, black eyeliner, their wardrobes a convoluted diagram of pithy insults, rants, and disaffected poetry about death and how fake everyone is. Man, that would really show the establishment.